Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Circular logic

The mathematical constant pi is under threat from a group of detractors who will be marking "Tau Day" on Tuesday.

Tau Day revellers suggest a constant called tau should take its place: twice as large as pi, or about 6.28 - hence the 28 June celebration.

Tau proponents say that for many problems in maths, tau makes more sense and makes calculations easier.

"I like to describe myself as the world's leading anti-pi propagandist," said Michael Hartl, an educator and former theoretical physicist.

"When I say pi is wrong, it doesn't have any flaws in its definition - it is what you think it is, a ratio of circumference to diameter. But circles are not about diameters, they're about radii; circles are the set of all the points a given distance - a radius - from the centre," Dr Hartl explained to BBC News.

By defining pi in terms of diameter, he said, "what you're really doing is defining it as the ratio of the circumference to twice the radius, and that factor of two haunts you throughout mathematics."

[...] —BBC (via Jane)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Mettamorphosis

"LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest wants to change his name to Metta World Peace...."

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pole position

Levi quotes my favorite bit from the letters Nabokov wrote to Véra (printed in a recent New Yorker) while he was on a college lecture tour in 1942.

At the station in Springfield I was met . . . by the club secretary, a creepily silent melancholic of somewhat clerical cast with a small stock of automatic questions, which he quickly exhausted. He is an elderly bachelor, and his profession consists of doing secretarial work for several Springfield clubs. He livened up and flashed his eyes one single time--got awfully nervous, having noticed that the flagpole by the Lincoln mausoleum had been replaced by a new, taller one. It turned out that his hobby--or, rather, the passion of his life--is flagpoles. He sighed with relief when a watchman gave him the exact information--seventy feet--because the pole in his own garden is still ten feet taller.

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Friday, June 24, 2011


...Monaco, which is about half the size of Central Park. —NYT

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eighteen minutes

Dan Visel commented on my recent post about Marguerite Young and her mammoth, many-years-in-the-making novel Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965). He sent me a link to her 1977 Paris Review interview, which (he writes) "is full of things like this":

I met Norman Mailer at a cocktail party after Miss MacIntosh was published. I had never seen him before. He came up to me and said, “Were there any fighters in your family?” I answered, “Why yes. My half-brother was a champion in the ring.” “I knew it,” he said, “I knew you had a fighter in the family.” “Well, what made you think that?” I asked. He said, “Because it took a lot of strength hanging out in the sawdust ring like that, punching away for eighteen years the way you did.” Then he wrote to my publisher to say I was a “gentle Hercules in highheels.” My publisher's publicity department gave that letter to a cartoonist at the Herald Tribune who did it up and showed it to me—a cartoon of me punching it out with Mailer with that caption, “a gentle Hercules in highheels.” So Mailer was congratulating me for the stamina of spending so many years on a novel. I suppose it took stamina in a way, but it takes stamina to write anything for eighteen minutes.

Question: Have any of you read this book? Was it great?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The corrections

The family later moved to Brookline. But Mrs. Bloomberg said the landlord there wanted the apartment, so when Michael was about 4, they made a final move, to Ronaele Road in Medford. (“That’s ‘Eleanor’ spelled backwards,” his mother noted.) —NYT

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The entire field of outdoor sports

"Her dress of sleazy silk was bright burned orange painted with black sail-boats sailing over purple trees and red football players playing over steeples and white skiers skiing over sail-boats cascading to the hem and locked acrobats, the entire field of outdoor sports, it seemed, being on her body, for her scarf was painted with spidery tennis players and tennis nets and ice-skaters skating on silver ponds and red polo riders riding red horses, and there were little footballs hanging from her charm bracelets, tennis rackets and ice-skates and golf clubs and numerous other trophies, some of field and stream, satin fishes running around the hem of her chiffon petticoat edged with yellow lace, butterflies embroidered upon the knees of her thin silk stocking, and her skirts came up high above her knees, higher when she moved, showing her yellow satin garters and pairs of stuffed red valentine hearts dangling from ribbons and faces which were painted powder puffs, and the coat seemed shrunken or a size too small like something she might have worn in a remote youth." — from p. 2 of Marguerite Young's 1198-page Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965)

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Some gleanings

Levi on Donald E. Westlake's The Hook—and its sketch for his soon-to-be-published-for-the-first-time posthumous novel, Memory. (It's less complicated than it sounds.)


At The Morning News, Robert Birnbaum talks to Arthur Phillips. Highlight of the conversation:

AP: [...] I read Ed Park’s Personal Days recently. A few years ago two separate novels came out about office politics and both [were] written in the first person plural. One of them was Personal Days. That was a wonderful book.

RB: Is he married to one of those Believer editors?

AP: I don’t know who he is married to.

RB: I look to you for some gleanings of New York book-world intelligence.

AP: What, am I Walter Winchell? The other book I liked, sort of the highlight of the year, was Cards of Identityby Nigel Dennis, which is from 1955. Ed Park recommended it to me because I had this Shakespeare play in my book. And I panicked and went out and read it and it has a new Shakespeare play in it. It is spectacular.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

They should just call it "Ed's"

In Buffalo, a famous family hot-dog business splits—now there's a "Theodore's" to compete with "Ted's." (Full story at the Buffalo News.)

That's part of the reason Theo's Fring, a mixed order of French fries and onion rings, is not called Ted's Fring, and why burgers are called the Big T and the Little T, rather than the big and little Ted.


In non-hot-dog news, tonight I'm on a panel at the Asian American Writers' Workshop—"How to Get Your Book Published: From Writing a Query Letter to Signing a Contract." (It's at 7 p.m., 110-112 W. 27th St., 6th floor.)

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Brain salt


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Forty drafts

He wouldn’t go on to the second paragraph until the first paragraph was perfect, and sometimes he’d do 40 drafts of them. And so on, and each paragraph he polished as he went along to an astonishing degree. He wrote one short story a year, and sent it to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, got $1.98 for it and was happy. Strange.
—Lawrence Block on Stanley Ellin (to Ethan Iverson, on his blog, Do the Math)

(Via Rob)

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Once bitten

Murphy said that the taunting and chippiness that has marked this series — much an outgrowth of the incident in which Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows bit the finger of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in Game 1, followed by episodes in which players on both teams thrust their fingers toward opponents’ mouths, culminating in a rash of misconduct penalties at the end of Game 3 — was garbage. —NYT


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Some highlights from a recent NYT article

Nauru, facing the depletion of its most valuable resource, phosphates formed from bird droppings, severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2002, then restored them three years later, prompting a Chinese official to grumble that the islanders were “only interested in material gains.”


Vanuatu’s government faces a dizzying task, trying to govern a wildly diverse population scattered in 82 volcanic islands over a territory of almost 5,000 square miles. Daniel Scott, a travel writer who recently returned from there, described one ethnic group, the Yaohnanen, who worship Britain’s Prince Philip, believing that he is the incarnation of one of their ancestral spirits, and believe he will one day return to their island and rule the world.


...[I]ts official Web site promotes an active volcano that is small enough for tourists to approach safely, usually.



Saturday, June 04, 2011

Annals of Copy-Editing

So what exactly does it mean for American Airlines, having its name on the arenas and stamped on the courts of the two NBA finalists?

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline carrier no doubt is enjoying a dream matchup with the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat slugging it out for NBA supremacy for the second time in five years, even if the building names could get somewhat confusing.

The Mavericks ply their trade at American Airlines Center, and the Heat call AmericanAirlines Arena home. Yes, there's a space between "American" and "Airlines" in North Texas, while the words run together off South Beach.

(Via Jane; I'm not sure where it's from.)

Friday, June 03, 2011

Song of myself

The exciting newish academic confraternity known as Post45 met this spring in Cleveland (I was slated to go and speak, but couldn't)—and now they have a forum on their website called "Contemporaries." Boston College's Min-Hyoung Song's piece, "Race and Racelessness in Ed Park's 'Personal Days,'" is uncannily good. (I'm biased, I know, but...)

His main focus is on the racial (and post-racial, and proto-racial) aspect of the novel, which most reviews ignored, and he articulates more or less what was on my mind in this respect (some very conscious maneuvers). The conclusions he draws are surprising and exciting (and in some cases aren't ones I necessarily had in mind, but which I totally buy). And especially thrilling is his defense of PD as a book—as a story told using the superficially simple technologies of the novel to deliver stuff that another medium couldn't. Very cool. (As I said on FB, it makes me want to write another novel!)

I'm excited for his book-in-progress, of which this will be (I think) a chapter.


I'm thinking of a quote from Sherlock Holmes: "What one man can invent, another can discover."


Min Song wrote the citation for Personal Days when it was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award—which reminds me that I'll be taking part in a panel at the Asian American Writers Workshop on June 16. The topic: "How to Get Your Book Published." I'll be joining novelists Ed Lin, Wendy Lee, and Monique Truong, editor Zohra Saed, and agents Kirby Kim and Jin Auh. More details here.

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Anthology fever

I gave a reading last night with Rachel Sherman and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh at the Lillian Vernon Writers' House (it was fun), for the students at the NYU summer session. There I also got to pick up a copy of They're At It Again: An Open City Reader, edited by Thomas Beller and Joanna Yas.

It's huge—I didn't realize it was nearly 800 pages. Who's in it? A quick glance yields Paul Bowles, Jonathan Ames, Geoff Dyer, Bryan Charles, the aforementioned R.S. and S.S., Davids Means and Shields, Sam Lipsyte, Martha McPhee, Mary Gaitskill, Rivka Galchen, Walter Kirn, James Lasdun, Victor Pelevin, Hal Sirowitz, Edmund White, Leni Zumas, Richard Yates (!), Charles Bukowski, Will Eno, Sylvia Foley, Hubert Selby Jr., Jessica Shattuck...the list really does go on...It's satisfyingly heavy, and I'm excited that my story "Bring on the Dancing Horses" (from Open City #30) is included...


A slimmer book, but with nearly as many contributors, is No Near Exit, an anthology of writing from Post Road magazine, each one selected by a different writer, making for a vertiginous reading experience. Plus, some of the pieces are interviews with writers, and others are writers recommending books by other writers...

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Disambiguations™ for June 2, 2011

Some catch-up...

I. Rachel Aviv made her amazing New Yorker (!) debut last week with "God Knows Where I Am," about a psychiatric patient who refused treatment, moved into the attic of an abandoned house, and subsisted on apples while keeping an extensive diary. Such a good piece. You need to subscribe to read it (though the abstract is oddly compelling).*

II. Hans Keilson, who found late-career American literary success last year (at the age of 101), has passed away. Damion Searls, who translated Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key, wrote this appreciation/profile of him last year for The Believer, which you can read now in full online.

III. Speaking of The Believer—the June issue is out! Robert Ito kicks it off with a fascinating piece on Josiah Flynt Willard—hobo, writer, turncoat. Charity Vogel finds the godfather of the game show; Hillary Chute (!) interviews Joe Sacco, the war reporter/graphic narrativist; Brandon Stosuy listens to Destroyer's Kaputt; the usual columns including the new Daniel Handler one; and much more...

*A side effect of reading Rachel's piece was wanting more, which meant reading some of the rest of the magazine. Great magazine! I liked the profile of Cory Arcangel—excellent. As if a quote from Ed Halter wasn't enough, it also mentions that he was a star lacrosse player at my alma mater. Then I started reading the açai berry piece and a review of a bio of Rabindranath Tagore. But then I had to leave the magazine (it was my sister's).

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